Saturday, July 11, 2009

Welcome to the Jungle

We have a new favorite place.
The Rainforest Cafe.

Experience what it is like to spend money in an authentic rainforest setting, if rainforests were plastic and full of robots!

Since many of my readers are not blessed to reside in a state containing this amazing dining concept, such as the Great State of Texas ("Waiting for Alaska to Melt"), I should explain.

Imagine, if you will, a fairly expensive casual dining restaurant, combined with a fairly expensive toy store, combined with Chuck-E-Cheese. Then give it all an "environmental" theme, and voila! (French, meaning "poof"): you have the Rainforest Cafe.

Tasteful, no?

We generally eat at the one in Galveston, TX:

We began going when Princess was just a little tot. Now that we have Dexy, going to Rainforest Cafe (what the kids call "The Jungle") is an exciting and costly adventure.

When one enters the Rainforest Cafe, one does not merely enter a "restaurant." One enters a "restaurant with a toy store." Helpfully, the hostess stand is located in the middle of the toy store, for your spending convenience. Heaven help you if there is a wait. I mean it. You could easily spend $100 just waiting to eat, at least at the one in Galveston: they have a special, Rainforest-themed Build-A-Bear Workshop right there!

Thank goodness. I can't tell you how neglectful as I parent I have felt, without a custom-stuffed rhinoceros wearing a safari outfit and combat boots.

One does not get seated at the Rainforest Cafe by a hostess, one has a "tour guide." One is not waited on, one has a "safari guide" to "lead you" through the "adventure" and "refill" your "Sprite."

If you are a savvy and frugal individual, like myself, you will fork over the $15 to join the Rainforest Club (but I confess I got the membership for $10 because it was "on special."). This membership card gets you a free appetizer (or 10% off adult entrees), 10% off in the toy store, and preferred seating. Our cheese sticks are now free. Nothing else is.

Kids' entrees are $5.99. That is huge, comparatively. The only other place I can think of where we spend that much is Outback Steakhouse, when Princess wants a steak. (Steak and calamari are her two faves.) Soft drinks are $2.50. The adult hamburger plate is $8.99, cheese $.50 extra, french fries $.99 extra. Really. So, doing the math, our meal yesterday:

Cheese sticks: free
Dexy's Jurassic Chicken Bites: $5.99
Princess' Sliders: $5.99
Sven's Burger: $8.99
Cheese: $.50
Fries: $.99
Deb's Burger: $8.99
Cheese: $.50
Drinks: $5.00

Really, $37.45 isn't that bad, right? For a nice meal out at a fun place? Right?

I didn't tell you about dessert.

The Volcano.

Topped with a sparkler, this mountain of brownie, ice cream, whipped cream, fudge, and caramel sauce is a $12.99 flaming mountain of fun. We must get the volcano whenever we go to the jungle. There is no hope of Princess (or now, Dexy) forgetting about it, because the servers (excuse me, "Safari Guides") parade each one through the restaurant bellowing, "VOL-CA-NOOOOO!"

It also doesn't help that now, whenever we go to any restaurant, Princess plaintively asks for the Volcano. She had the waitress at Applebee's in tears with her trembling lower lip and orphaned-waif eyes.

With the addition of the dessert and tax, our bill came to $54 and change. Before we hit the toy store.

Ah, summer.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cereal Killer

I had a startling realization (i.e. "antiphony") at Sam's club a few weeks ago.

We were in the cereal aisle. In front of us was an array of well-known breakfast cereals packaged in truly offensive quantities. This was a serious decision. Whichever cereal we chose to buy would be with us for a while. I scanned the aisle, and saw it:

Frosted Mini-Wheats. My favorite cereal.

"Let's get the Frosted Mini-Wheats," I said to Sven.

"Frosted Mini-Wheats?" he asked, the expression on his face indicating I had actually suggested Crunchy Grit -n- Paste. "What about Froot Loops?"

You see, Sven and I have very different attitudes about cereal. As children of the '70's (and in my case, '80's), we understand that, after our choice of Saturday morning television, nothing says more about a person than the brand of breakfast cereal they endorse. You could be Wheaties (Bruce Jenner, Mary Lou Retton), or you could be Trix (Silly Rabbit). These were important decisions, in those days.

My cereal identity was determined by my mother. A child of the '50's, my mother took the 1970's and '80's health revolution very seriously. (From everything I understand, in the 1950's a fistful of Oreos crumbled into heavy cream was an acceptable "breakfast." They didn't really start to figure out that might not be good for you until my childhood. Thanks, science.)

Our pantry contained an assortment of rock-and-twig cereals such as Shredded Wheat and Grape Nuts. When she was feeling "kooky" we'd get Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, or Cheerios. (Rice Krispies were our favorite because the commercials featured Snap, Crackle, and Pop, the Keebler Elf's ne'er-do-well nephews.) Our "treat" cereal was Raisin Bran. My mom wouldn't buy anything containing artificial colors or flavors, or any added sugar. She did, however, allow us to add our own sugar, so when she wasn't looking we would heap sugar on our bowl of Shredded Wheat until the cereal was no longer visible. I think she knew.

Eventually, Mom softened her stance on cereals enough to allow Honey-Nut Cheerios and Frosted Flakes. There was much rejoicing.

My point is not to point out how my mother deprived me of a childhood by refusing to buy Cookie Crisp, it is to explain why I never developed a taste for "kid" cereals. I didn't taste Froot Loops until I was married, as I'm sure the Lord inended. I have never eaten a Coco Puff. I have only ever eaten one freeze-dried marshmallow, and I only did that after I learned Sven's passionate feelings toward them.

Sven's cereal background is vastly different from mine. His father worked in the food service industry, helping to develop new recipes and foods to market. He was instrumental in the creation of "Chex Mix." He also developed the freeze-dried marshmallow, which led to Lucky Charms cereal, Sven's favorite cereal. Sven vastly prefers kid cereals to any of the grown-up varieties. Some of his favorites are Froot Loops, Count Chocula, Fruity Pebbles, and Hershey's Bowl of Miniature Candy Bars That You Just Eat.

The early days of our marriage Sven bought his and I bought mine. That meant Sven bought a box of Lucky Charms and I bought a box each of Raisin Bran, Grape Nuts, Shredded Wheat, and Honey-Nut Cheerios. I would eat a bowl of each, then wait the required 12 months to throw the opened boxes away before I bought more.

Is it any wonder that I'm not allowed to pick the cereal anymore?

Still, I couldn't have the only cereal in our house to be Froot Loops.

"What about Rice Krispies?" I offered to Sven.

"That's not a food, it's an ingredient," he snapped. What about Cookie Crunch?"

We got Cheerios. To date, I am the only person in the house who has eaten any cereal.

Good thing we didn't get something no one else likes...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Reflections on Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

I watched the service yesterday, and I have some observations:

1. The opening of the service bordered on the sacrilegious. (For those who didn't watch, Michael's golden casket was brought into the Staples Center as a choir sang, "Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King." It was unclear whether they meant God or the King of Pop.)

2. I enjoyed the performances, particularly John Mayer, which surprised me, as he is generally the sort of behatted hipster I avoid. However, his guitar-solo rendition of Human Nature was tasteful and beautiful. Jennifer Hudson's performance was also stellar. Lionel Richie, Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder, and Usher also performed.

3. Of the speakers, most struck me as self-serving and sycophantic. Being from where I'm from, I'm accustomed to Sheila Jackson Lee's style of rhetoric, but I thought it was inappropriate. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III's speeches seemed out of place, somehow- they seemed more suited to a political rally than a remembrance.

4. Brooke Shields, by contrast, told of the personal, human side of Michael Jackson. The stories about their exploits as children and her sincere emotion was very moving.

5. Paris Jackson, in my opinion, provided the true memorial. She was in the spotlight for a few seconds, but it wasn't until she spoke that Michael Jackson was really, truly human. She didn't say anything about his fame, or the controversy, or his music...she just talked about her daddy. Despite myself, I cried. Also, despite myself, as I watched her being cradled by her aunt and her brother, I hoped that the kids will be allowed to stay with the only family they know.

So, really, for me the whole memorial could have been 30 seconds long. Just a little girl saying that she loved her daddy. There is some controversy today: some people saying it was staged, others insisting that it was bad for Paris to allow her to speak. That will be hashed out, I suppose, as people try to squeeze another couple of days' worth of headlines out of this.

I'm just going to listen to some music.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Quirks II: Sven's Mom

I never had a great relationship with my mother-in-law. I don't mind saying it, it's just a fact of life. But, she had one little "quirk" that never failed to amuse me:

She always completely butchered names and titles, but in a way that made them easily recognizable.

I was thinking about this when I saw this recent SNL sketch: (Note: the commercial may not load, but watch the bottom bar, after 30 seconds you should get the sketch.)

We had certain things we had to translate for others.

In her language:

"Fluton" = futon ("I don't know where you want me to sleep, but I can't sleep on that fluton.")

"Siskel & Eggbert" = Sigfried and Roy ("I don't want to go to a magic show. I went to Las Vegas and saw Siskel and Eggbert and they put on the best show you ever saw.")

Celebrity names were a trial. Usually she wouldn't even attempt them. She'd say things like "That pretty blond actress" (Jessica Lange, or perhaps Reese Witherspoon. Who knows?). But our friends' names were also a problem, and she was much more descriptive there.

"You know that friend of yours? Who I thought was a woman? You know? Because his hair is so long? And I didn't notice the beard right away? You'd think he could cut his hair so people wouldn't be embarrassed when they didn't notice he was a man right away." Sven, tears streaming down his face, would repeat his friend's name every time she took a breath, but it did no good. Our good friend would forever be the one she thought was a woman at first, and she made sure to tell him every time she saw him. ("You know, I thought you were a woman. Because your hair's so long.")

She had dozens of home-dubbed videotapes of movies. Some of the titles were entertaining:

"The Truth About the Dogs and the Cats"

"How's the Air Up There?"

Others were just incomprehensible:

"Dead Man Walking Tall." I never knew if that one was "Dead Man Walking," or "Walking Tall," or perhaps "A Walk In the Clouds." It could have been anything. That was part of the fun of watching movies at Sven's house when we begain dating.

Sven: What would you like to watch? "Bridges of the Fall" or "Dangerous Learning?"

Deb: Let's be romantic.

Sven: {sitting down} I wonder if it will be "Bridges of Madison County" or "Legends of the Fall?"

Deb: Either one is fine.

It was "Grumpier Old Men." Huh.